UC Merced uniquely qualified to help achieve global HSR leadership
- Published Tuesday, November 30, 2010, by the Merced Sun-Star
UC Merced, all aboard
By E. Daniel Hirleman
An ambitious, visionary, forward-thinking project requires an ambitious, visionary, forward-thinking support system.
California's high-speed railway is just such a project. And UC Merced is ideally positioned to be a hub of that support system.
The project, whose plans include high-speed trains connecting San Francisco to Los Angeles by way of the Valley -- and later to Sacramento and San Diego, as well -- will improve the movement of people, goods and services and relieve congestion on freeways and at airports.
It will improve air quality and energy efficiency while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and our dependence on foreign oil.
And it will create jobs -- as many as 100,000 construction-related jobs and 450,000 permanent new jobs thanks to the economic growth high-speed rail will generate over the next 25 years, according to the California High-Speed Rail Authority.
There is no question the state's high-speed rail system will have a major impact on the economic development of the Valley -- slated to be the home of the system's first segment -- and of the entire state. But it doesn't end there.
Despite some recent political controversy, high-speed rail projects are in the works throughout the United States.
And while other countries might be ahead of us at the moment, it is imperative that we settle for nothing less than becoming a global leader in high-speed rail technology and developing a next-generation regional workforce in the field.
UC Merced is uniquely qualified to help achieve this vision, due to our ambitious plans for growth, strong foundation within the peerless University of California system and proximity to the nation's first high-speed rail corridor.
Through faculty expertise, research facilities, curriculum and outreach efforts, we envision an unprecedented synergy between UC Merced and high-speed rail that accelerates the entire Valley's transformation into an international economic and educational leader.
High-speed rail is an integrated discipline that combines fields ranging from civil, environmental and mechanical engineering to economics, social sciences and communications.
We cannot advance insights in one area of high-speed rail without an appreciation of the impact upon the entire system.
UC Merced will continue to grow, providing the opportunity for a meaningful portion of the campus' research and educational efforts to be integrated into this rapidly growing field.
High-speed rail could evolve as a signature initiative at UC Merced, which would allow us to strengthen research through collaborative opportunities, utilize equipment and facilities more widely due to mutual needs and give our curriculum a unifying thread.
The result would be a mutually beneficial system in which the high-speed rail system is improved -- and the Valley's economy bolstered -- by UC Merced's intellectual force, while the campus continues to establish itself as an integral component of the University of California system and a dynamic place where California's next generation of leaders can develop.
My vision would be of a self-contained ecosystem, with high-speed rail engineering and maintenance facilities located near the university and an approach that integrates our partners in the California High-Speed Rail Authority, the public school and state university systems, local community colleges, regional and state governments, and businesses.
Incorporating high-speed rail into UC Merced's educational offerings would put us at the forefront of the field as high-speed rail expands throughout the United States, creating a calling card of sorts that would attract students, help advance the campus' growth and in turn increase our economic and cultural impact on the Valley.
Our school will be educating engineers who have had their hands on a real project, their minds on the interdisciplinary "big picture" and their hearts in the community.
And our engagement in high-speed rail -- with students working on projects, demonstrate prototypes in the maintenance or engineering facility that serves as their laboratory, and watching their brainchild speed by at 220 mph -- would inspire the Valley's youth to pursue higher education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics while helping ensure that a UC-level educational experience is literally only minutes away.
E. Daniel Hirleman is the dean of the UC Merced School of Engineering.